AHRC Early Career Fellowship: Dr Charles West and ‘Turbulent Priests’
“That no one should dare to accuse a bishop, priest or cleric before public judges”. It was on the basis of texts like this that clerics in the Middle Ages claimed that they could only be brought to justice by ecclesiastical courts – the so-called ‘privilege of clergy’. Thanks to the award of an AHRC Early Career Fellowship, I shall be exploring the problem of the ‘judiciability’ of clerics between the 8th and the 12th century in Latin Europe as a whole, tracking when, where and why clerics actually did make use of public courts, and how this practice related to the shifting theory (the quote above is, incidentally, a ninth-century forgery drawing on Roman law).
As a crucial way in which the church set itself apart from the world, the issue of jurisdiction is a great way to think about the 11th-century Gregorian Reform. But the project has wider implications, too. For an awkward relationship between religion, law and the state is hardly unique to the Middle Ages: it is an issue that continues to resonate today (for instance, the established Church of England). As part of the research project, I shall be arranging a series of public talks exploring this set of questions too. Watch this space!